Saturday, April 18, 2015

The $6 Million Question: If ARod Hits A Homer And Yankees Pretend He Didn't,
Should He Still Get Paid For It?

Originally published 3/14/15

By Barry Millman
Yes, Virginia, there was an Alex Rodriguez home run Wednesday -- unless you were relying on the Yankees' official twitter feed for game updates. 

If you were, his solo shot off Boston's Brandon Workman -  his first dinger in two years in a game of any kind -- never happened.

Despite the overwhelming majority of Yankee fans attending spring games at Steinbrenner Field and on social media who have been cheering Rodriguez in his comeback from a year-long suspension, the team's official social media coverage omitted any mention of the landmark hit during the Yankees' 10-6 loss. 

A team spokesman told Brendan Kuty of New Jersey Advanced Media the omission was unintentional and that "Alex will be treated like every other Yankees player" going forward.

A hypocritical response at best, for the team has already made it clear to the player in private and,  through copious leaks to the media, in public that they intend to treat him like no other Yankees player.  

Wednesday's tweetless tater was only the latest example.  

Ever hear of a team complain that a player who lives in Florida and has reported early to spring training for years did so without informing them in advance? 

Then there was the meeting Rodriguez requested with team officials headed by majority owner Hal Steinbrenner prior to spring training in which he apologized for the acrimonious legal fight he waged to stave off his suspension for using a banned substance in the hope it could be put in the past. 

In that meeting, the team's brass made it clear it would not.  They also informed him they intended not to honor their contractual commitment to pay him a series of $6 million marketing bonuses for reaching certain career milestone home runs, claiming his PED use had ruined their marketing value to the team. 

And then the team leaked it to the media.

Ironically, after more than a year of the baseball world anticipating all the distractions associated with Rodriguez's return to the diamond, it has come to pass the only distractions have been created by the team itself.

Rodriguez, who is currently in the record books with 654 career home runs, is only six long balls away from tying Willie Mays at 660 and cashing his first bonus check. The marketing deal calls for subsequent checks to be cut for his 714th (Babe Ruth), 755th (Hank Aaron) and 762nd (Barry Bonds). 

It's no secret the team had hoped Rodriguez would crumble like a helpless cripple the first time he swung at a live pitch so they could collect some insurance money and call it a day on the remaining three years of his contract. 

However, he has demonstrated he can still hit and, in fact, he has been outhitting most of the middle of the order players General Manager Brian Cashman has assembled, as well as still playing a solid third base.

Since Aaron's and Bonds' HR marks are beyond reach and Ruth's is an academic one for the purposes of this season, the question becomes: Will the Yankees' actually try to avoid paying $6 million out of spite when he passes Mays?  

Consider the following. In addition to his 660th homer, Rodriguez will also probably hit his 2,000th RBI this season; passing Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds in the process and move into 4th place on the all-time list.

He is also going to become the 29th player in history to join the 3,000 hit club. 

For "every other Yankees player” they’d stop the game, retrieve the ball and hold a brief ceremony for such occasions.  

Will they do that for him?

How do you make the case that something has no market value if you do not try to market it or, worse, do everything in your power to minimize it?

There is also the little matter of Mays and Aaron themselves who have offered their public support and encouragement in wishing Rodriguez well in his pursuit of their niches in the history books.  

If they don't have a problem with it, why should the team?

Like it or not,  the Yankees need to get behind the idea that their fan base is no different from any other when it comes to forgiving a productive player who was  instrumental in helping them win a championship; and that historic achievements like these are growing few and far between. 

The Yankees can retire all the numbers they want, but if they are sincerely concerned with marketing their brand like they claim, here's what they should do.

When Alex hits number 660 they should have 40,000 commemorative bobbleheads of Alex and Willie shaking hands ready to go for the next game; invite Willie to give a short pre-game congratulatory speech and have Hal present Alex with his $6 million bonus check. 

Sending out an official tweet would be a nice touch too.